To look back at the second half of 2014, we revisit some people, spirits and few criminals who passed through this column. Revisiting the words with images of a year now past has made me realize how fortunate we all are to be where we are, and know that someone will look back at our generation and our beaches and our fish and think, “Man, those were the days…” Next week, we are back on track, hopefully soon surrounded in ice with pictures of pike perch and pickerel. My thanks to you all for such an interesting, challenging and creative year, rich with your fish and your tales.
July: It’s good to be in a good groove and it’s good to know there are lots of fish around, even if they are not really around you. The big bass we pined for all spring and early summer apparently passed on hanging around our beaches went directly to Block Island. Did you know it’s free to park at all the beaches on Block Island and that there are no gates to keep you in or out? Huh. Fluking is still strong in some deeper waters and not so much in close. Lately it seems wind and tide have been in disagreement. There are plenty of big scup around and it’s a real winner of a fishery, especially for the kids. And who doesn’t believe a fisherman?
Back in the day, Charlestown Beach stories were of Power Wagons, kids sleeping on the beach and Jim McCusker’s Table Talk van. When you are very young and your dad is very big, it is exciting to see stripers get landed and during the day, brothers had all they could do to drag heavy fish, like his personal best 47 pounder.
On the freshwater side, local angler Eric Wallin landed a personal best largemouth at his top-secret, relatively close farm pond. Our Governor Chafe, that’s with one F, declared squid to be our official dinner starter. How exactly did sautéed calamari make this year’s legislative docket? If such a thing was of paramount importance, there may have been a more suitable namesake to reflect our states dire economic situation, but we probably can’t eat the burrowing beetle.
Some big stripers in the fifty pound range have been landed around the Pt. Jude lighthouse and the south west side of Block Island. One lucky angler landed a sea herring while night surfcasting off Narragansett Town Beach. Both parties seemed miffed at the chance meeting and both were released safely. Fish trap technology is as ancient as you might imagine, simple in its design and as clean as its managers care to be. Fish swims in, by-catch is returned. Properly maintained fish traps reflect our occasional practice of successfully managing a resource.
August came with a Postcard from the Ledge. The pre-dawn commute to Block Island has been heavy with calm seas and favorable winds, drawing fishermen state-wide with hopes of securing a parking spot over the boulders and holes. This has been an exceptional year for fishing from a boat and for the last few months, waters beneath the cliffs have looked like a swath of Outside White paint from Whale Rock to Montauk. Tanner Littlefield trolled up some big sea-run bluefish on umbrella rigs behind Alex Hoxie’s meticulous Contender, boating plenty despite his irritable case of Catch-And-Release-Too-Early Syndrome.
Three men were charged with taking blue crabs after legal harvest hours and female crabs laden with visible eggs from Ninigret Pond. Unfortunately the charges were dismissed with a far too lenient $50 donation. A tip of the camo hat to the RIDEM officers who brought three thieves to court but somehow, they managed to walk away for the price of a round of drinks at Milt’s.
We lost the prolific Jamestown painter, Tom McAleer. The most magnificent Block Island artist, Cindy Kelly, introduced me to his images; there was something so amazing about rough brush strokes, piles of color and the thought you had to invest to see how much was there. The colors were not exact. It was hard to tell rocks from sea. The long poles were crooked and had no reels and none of that was the point. Tom reminded us that when fishing, sometimes rocks and ocean are one and we are the same with them and we are often lucky just to hold on and cast. Some men took all they could without regard for pond or sea, while one man took in everything and gave it back to us on canvas for free.
September’s east facing beaches and bony spots have been loaded with cookie-cutter 20” stripers gorging themselves on silversides and anchovies. Fly casting regular and serious old school fish guy, Guy Ippolito, landed a nice striper sort of near there, just shy of legal keeping. Regulations are now proposed so striped bass mortality can be reduced to new proposed target levels by 25 per cent. Your comments, recommendations and arguments will certainly help to shape the discussion and decisions.
October has brought the spectacular blitzes of false albacore from Watch Hill to First Rock. Long revered for the great fight they give, they are loathed for their ability to disappear and follow no pattern we humans can understand. On October 3, Adam Perry Sr. was lost when fishing off Little Compton. Three fishermen were sent into the sea without notice, two were returned. It is a pity family should suffer such loss without benefit of closure.
In November’s past, John Swienton, would turn the Bonnie S. north out of Old Harbor, watch the high cliff line for a green mansard roof, check the amount of water below and make a careful triangulation with a land point to the southwest to catch some cod with hand lines in the island’s cold shallow waters. Wayne Kenyon raised a family of twelve on the edge of The Great Swamp in a wonderful life of fishing and hunting adventures. “When I was a little kid I used to walk to fish. I used to raccoon hunt that swamp at night”.
Although certainly true that commercial fishermen caught the lion’s share of ground fish, that’s only half the truth; the other is that we the people bought and ate all that fish and since the consumer beats the heart of successful capitalism, we all share responsibility. Cod fish cakes have become just fish cakes, Lord only knows what a fish stick is. The Palisades Mill fish ladder has been repaired. Science works best on the working waterfront when voices from the lab are heard as clearly as the voices on deck. Successfully reducing a harvest requires three things: desire, participation and enforcement.
On the Salmon River, chinooks spawn upstream from the lake but thanks to the usual life/work conflicts, we missed that great annual migration by just enough. For those not accustomed to the local fishing style, it’s a lot like spending six hours at Mini-Golf, trying to get the ball into Abe Lincoln’s mouth from twenty yards back. In a rushing river. With no beer. From the parking lot you elbow your way down the rocky shore, past Marlboro boxes and Skoal tins to set up just past the jaundiced maple tree where everyone apparently relieves themselves. Thankfully, there were several handsome wood benches along the shore which provided some fine rest in between hours of not catching any fish. Quite a year to be a fisherman, it was.
Todd Corayer is a life-long fisherman who lives not far from the Saugatucket with his wife, who supports his fishing mainly to get him out of the house and a young son who regularly catches more fish than him.